Pope Francis has described as “a martyr” the elderly French priest who was stabbed to death at his altar by Islamist extremists, strongly implying that he will one day be made a saint.
In a forthright homily in the chapel of the Vatican guesthouse where he lives, the Pope said that anyone who murders in the name of God is “satanic”.
The world should have “the courage to tell the truth: killing in the name of God is satanic," he said.
He repeatedly described the Rev Jacques Hamel, who was knifed to death in July in an attack that was claimed by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), as a martyr.
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"He accepted his martyrdom there on the altar," the Pope said. "He is a martyr and martyrs are beatified."
The remarks strongly suggested that the Pope intends to make Father Hamel a saint. Beatification is the first major step in the path towards sainthood.
For a person to be beatified, the Catholic Church normally requires that a miracle be attributed to them. But that condition appears to have been waived by the Pope, who has established a reputation for “jumping over procedural hurdles”, as one Vatican insider put it.
The Argentinean pontiff spoke at a special Mass for around 80 Catholics from Rouen, where the 85-year-old was killed after two men barged their way into his church in the suburb of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray.
They forced him to kneel and then slit his throat, while chanting in Arabic at the altar. The two attackers were shot dead by police as they came out of the church.
The Pope said that before he was murdered, Father Hamel yelled at his attackers: “Satan, get out!” He added: “What a pleasure it would be if all religious confessions would say: 'To kill in the name of God is satanic'".
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He said Father Hamel was just the latest in a long line of martyrs in the history of the Church. Throughout the world there were Christians "who are murdered, tortured, imprisoned, have their throats slit because they do not deny Jesus Christ,” he said.
After the Mass, Dominique Leburn, the archbishop of Rouen, said the Pope had told him that the French priest should from now on be “venerated” – a further indication that his path to sainthood is all but assured.